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Achieving balance.

In their best-selling book A Passion for Excellence, authors Tom Peters and Nancy Austin say this about achieving balance: We are frequently asked if it is possible to have it all - a full and satisfying personal life and a full and satisfying, hard-working, professional one. Our answer is: No...."

When I shared this quote with some 1,000 association executives at the closing luncheon program of ASAE's 1990 Management Conference, the rest of the authors' words were drowned out by laughter and applause - apparently a mass expression of relief. Management experts were confirming what these executives knew all along. Achieving personal-professional balance is an ordeal.

One executive in the audience described the balance dilemma this way: "I have a bumper sticker on my car that says 'I'd rather be sailing.' As I got in the car the other morning, I looked at the sticker and the thought crossed my mind that I was a liar. If I'd rather be sailing, I'd be sailing. Instead, I was driving to work. Then there are other moments when I realize I go to work because I have a wife and three kids, a mortgage, and college tuition to pay."

Association executives contend achieving balance is more difficult than ever: Members have higher expectations but less time to volunteer services, and association executives are faced with sifting through mounds of information to determine what is important.

To achieve balance, you have to correct disempowering myths about balance and then develop an action strategy.

Balance myths

Myth 1. Balance involves organizing your life into neatly parcelled segments of time. Instead of an enduring arrangement of activities that holds together with little wear and tear on work or personal life, balance involves accommodating changing circumstances, clarifying values, and re-evaluating commitments. Here's how one association executive describes the process of balancing:

"Everyone talks about achieving balance and it sounds like climbing a mountain, where you climb to the top and you're there. But the individual who achieves balance is more like a tightrope walker in the circus, who's constantly shifting positions and holding onto that pole to help him. You have to be flexible to attend your daughter's soccer game for two hours and then shift your balance to spend an hour reading a committee's report. It's going to be a constantly shifting thing for the rest of our lives if that's what we want."

Myth 2. Achieving balance is simply a matter of setting priorities and managing your time more effectively. On the surface, achieving balance appears to be a time management issue. But managing time effectively does not guarantee an enjoyable, balanced life. Despite the proliferation of time management courses and so-called "time-saving" office technology, such as fax machines, car phones, and personal computers, a Los Angeles Times study found people's leisure time had declined over the past 15 years from an average of 26 hours a week to only 16 hours a week.

In a society where success is primarily defined by career achievement, technology has only made it possible to do more work - at home or even while commuting. Taking time for balance is often mistaken as losing ambition, compromising excellence, or getting sidetracked from reaching your full potential.

Beyond time management, achieving balance means clearly distinguishing what is personally fulfilling from what society says should be fulfilling. In his book Going Nowhere Fast, Melvyn Finder says, "To balance your life you first need to weed out those goals and activities that support a purely external image of success and nurture those that support your personal terms of fulfillment."

Balance strategy

Stop 1. Recognize signs of imbalance. Take time out from life's routines to consider these questions:

Is there something you know you'd rather be doing that never gets done because your schedule is filled with things you have to do?

Must you always set more ambitious goals? Do you feel guilty because you think you might be losing dedication or becoming complacent?

If you never get to a position of greater power or responsibility at work, will that be okay, or will it be a big disappointment to you?

Would cutting back at work now mean admitting you made a mistake by sacrificing your personal life for your career earlier?

* Are you postponing important decisions (raising a family, marriage, moving) until circumstances at work permit the change?

* Do you know what to do to maintain a minimum level of physical fitness, but are you waiting until you have spare time to do it?

* Do you have such a variety of goals that you don't have time to focus and become masterful in a single area you feel passionate about?

These questions reveal the true source of imbalance: believing you have no power to choose differently in orchestrating your life. To achieve balance, you must believe in your ability to choose a personally fulfilling lifestyle, unfettered by society's standards for success.

Step 2. Clarify passionate values and personal definitions of success. "Success is a personal decision," maintains Barbara Byrad-Lawler, CAE, executive vice president of the Community Associations Institute, Alexandria, Virginia. "To the extent people are in touch with their own values, they can better know what choices will bring them peace. Look in the mirror, and don't deceive yourself."

Our values are the standards by which we clarify the activities that bring us happiness, both at work and in our personal lives. They enable us to distinguish between juggling and balancing. juggling is having a full plate of activities and having to find time to do everything to avoid a sense of failure. Balancing is periodically examining our lifestyles and making adjustments that enable us to increase the time we spend on activities that express our most important values in our lives.

How do association executives define success based on personal values?

J. Dollard Carey, president of the association management firm Smith Bucklin & Associates, Inc., Chicago, defines success as "bringing out the best in people, watching people grow and be truly happy in their work. To a large extent, I measure my success by the success of others."

"The chaos of creativity is enriching," says John F. Schlegal, CAE, executive vice president of the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, Washington, D.C. "I enjoy playing with ideas. Ideas are like a rugby scrum: Kick the ball around, someone picks it up and runs with it. When I'm in the middle of the discussion of ideas, concepts, and public policy, I feel alive. I'm more concerned about feeling alive than being successful."

Jeff Yates, executive vice president of Independent Insurance Agents of America, Alexandria, Virginia, comments, "Going to bat for a member and being able to intervene in problems excites me. It would be fun to run a classical music store and leave at the end of the day, but I would get bored if there were no challenge to it."

Robert S. Bolan, CAE, left the American Diabetes Association, Alexandria, Virginia, after 10 years as executive director to lead the National Society to Prevent Blindness, Schaumburg, Illinois. Why leave?

"My life is successful if I keep learning," answers Bolan. We kept setting goals at ADA and making them, so people with diabetes lived longer in 1990 than in 1980. It was time to move on, to make a new contribution. I enjoy working with people focused on a mission, with plenty of zeal for it."

Notice that these association executives' values - empowering others, being creative, contributing, being challenged, and continually learning - could also be the source of aligned personal goals like coaching a Little League team, acting in a community theater group, serving on a school board, taking up white water rafting as a hobby, or enrolling in adult education classes.

Stop 3. Develop a vision for ideal balance. Most association executives wouldn't consider running a department without clear goals, but when it comes to their personal lives, they often overlook the need for long-range planning. Why not hold a yearly retreat - by yourself or with your family - to plan a balanced lifestyle? Determine goals for such aspects of your life as physical fitness, health, work, family, friends, leisure, and spiritual or personal development.

Stop 4. Leverage your commitment. The logical approach is to wait for a change of circumstances that will permit achieving balance with reasonable effort. But waiting often takes a toll in terms of stress, strained relationships, and diminished health. The questions below are designed to create a sense of urgency and a commitment to adjusting the imbalance in your life:

* What changes have you been thinking about making in your lifestyle or work style that right now appear difficult or impossible but that would improve the quality of your life dramatically?

* What changes would you make in your lifestyle if you knew you couldn't lose anything, either financially or in terms of career advancement?

* If you achieved your ideal vision of a balanced lifestyle, what pleasurable experiences would immediately become available to you? In what ways would your life look different in five years? Ten years? Twenty years?

* What discomforts occur when your life is out of balance? If you choose to make no changes and your life stays imbalanced, what discomfort or pain will accumulate in the next five years? Ten years? Twenty years?

Stop 5. Troubleshoot potential obstacles to achieving balance. Scrutinize your time management practices to accommodate a new plan for balance. For instance, schedule your exercise time or lunch date with your spouse with the same priority as a meeting with your board president. Safeguard your personal priorities by scheduling out-of-town meetings Tuesday through Thursday.

Stop 6. Implement your plan with organized support. Managing the expectations of others is critical for orchestrating balance. About to return to association management after a six-month sabbatical, Schlegal, of the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, took advantage of the hiring period to clarify expectations with his new board of directors.

"The chief executive officer and board must consider balance as a legitimate topic of conversation," says Schlegal. "They must see the value in the executive's being able to say, 'My plate is getting full, and here are the working conditions I need so that you'll get maximum performance out of me.' Years ago, I would have thought making personal requests was being too me-oriented, but it's really an organizational issue if the executive is to thrive for very long."

But how do you raise the issue of balance with an association board of directors that has no history of being sympathetic to its staffs personal needs? Executives who have successfully handled this delicate negotiation stress the need to clearly explore organizational consequences.

How does the organization benefit from having a long-standing executive, as opposed to having to repeatedly arrange for the replacement of executives who leave because of burnout? Consider the disruption of ongoing association programs, the costs in time and money of forming yet another search committee, the breakdown of teamwork, and the loss of vital contact with allied associations, in addition to the loss of years of experience in the job.

How much productivity, enthusiasm, and creativity are drained from an executive who has no outlet for handling the pressures of the job? How easy will it be to find a replacement when candidates learn their predecessor left battered with exhaustion and disillusionment? Since board members themselves have firsthand experience with the struggle to maintain balance, an effective presentation of these issues can tap their sympathy for the executive.

Putting up with a dismal job is also a sign of imbalance. But according to Roderick L. Geer, CAE, formerly executive vice president of the Million Dollar Round Table, Park Ridge, Illinois, and now with the Prudential Insurance Company, Newark, New Jersey, changing jobs isn't the only answer. Geer recommends job enrichment strategies. If you're a chief executive officer for an association, delegate the less desirable parts of your job. If you're not, find out if your boss is receptive to helping you achieve your vision of an ideal job. If he or she isn't receptive, consider shifting to another department - or developing a new department.

What if you or your family don't wish to live in a haven of association headquarters like New York City, Chicago, or Washington, D.C.? Anne L. Bryant, CAE, executive director of the American Association of University Women, Washington, D.C., commutes. She leaves her Washington office Thursday evening and returns from her home in Illinois to start the workweek Monday morning.

"The arrangement has worked out well for the association as well," maintains Bryant. "Working out of my home on Fridays allows me to have uninterrupted quality conversations when board members call. It's also a great time for reading, writing, and planning. My husband Peter is also committed to this arrangement. We talk on the phone every night, don't work on Sundays, and Peter does the weekday home maintenance."

At the office, association executives actively look to delegate work, but if time is so precious, why not delegate more at home, too? Call a temporary service to help with seasonal chores like stocking firewood for the winter or cleaning in the spring. Hire a personal assistant to run errands, balance your checking account, or address Christmas cards.

Finally, if past efforts to change your lifestyle haven't worked, arrange for a "balance coach." A balance coach is someone you set goals with and then empower to hold you accountable for completing them. Meet with your coach two or three times a week to discuss and write down your goals - and then check on how you are following through. Good candidates for balance coaches could be your secretary, a friend, a work associate, a family member, or an ASAE colleague.

Excellence without balance?

Without balance, flashes of brilliance are possible, but sustained exceptional performance is unlikely. Somewhere along the path to high achievement, the imbalanced fast tracker will be derailed because he or she has neglected something. Is high productivity possible when your health and energy decline? Is sustained excellence possible when your base of emotional support from friends and family crumbles, and there's no relief from work pressures?

Besides, do you really aspire to be a "monomaniac" with a mission?

Art Turock speaks frequently about sustaining exceptional performance and achieving balance. For a complimentary copy of a seven-page handout distributed at the 1990 ASAE Management Conference, call (206) 827-5238, or write the author at 6206 114th Ave., N.E., Kirkland, WA 98033.
COPYRIGHT 1991 American Society of Association Executives
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Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:personal-professional balance
Author:Turock, Art
Publication:Association Management
Date:Nov 1, 1991
Previous Article:In the loop: ASAE's second Western Educational Forum draws an appreciative audience.
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